Harshness Is Not Wise

The book of James is filled with practical instruction for Christians. One situation that receives emphasis in this letter is harshness, especially manifested by our speech. Consider his observation in James 3:6:
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell” (NKJV).
Anyone reading that description of the power of our words should realize how potent the muscle in our mouth can be.
But how seldom is James’s advice heeded! Even among followers of Jesus Christ, words are often spoken without consideration of the impact they may have on the hearer. In the name of “soundness,” we make harsh judgments and accusations and spread reports that damage reputations. If confronted about the spirit of their charges, brethren may respond with righteous indignation. “Are you suggesting that we shouldn’t defend the truth?” they retort.
Of course we’re not suggesting such a thing. But James argues in his inspired epistle that heavenly wisdom doesn’t act that way. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13). The word for “meekness” is the one that our Lord used in his description of himself: “for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:29)”. How we all desire Jesus to be gentle with us, especially when we sin! Should that not also be our attitude toward others?
James continued in his description of heavenly wisdom, and the traits continue to be far less than harsh:
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17,18).
The personality described here by James surely resembles what the gospel writers show to us of Jesus.
Suppose I hear that my brother is caught up in some sin. In my desire to defend the truth, I blast him with powerful and withering words. I have spoken the truth. But have I spoken it with love (see Ephesians 4:15)? Will my approach encourage him to return to the paths of righteousness, or has my harshness erected an obstacle to that path?
If we need to hear it from another writer, here’s Paul: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). (Paul’s word for “gentleness” is the same word James used for “meekness”.)
Yes, by all means, let us take stands for the truth. But may we always take such stands with God’s wisdom. Harshness is not wise.


Wisdom from God leads to a gentle spirit

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Tim Hall

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